Saudi demands for restoring relations with Qatar not viable, says US

Pre-conditions to settle dispute between Qatar and its neighbours could be met individually if not as a package, says Secretary of State Rex Tillerson

Saudi Arabia’s pre-conditions for restoring diplomatic and economic relations with Qatar are not realistic, even if some elements could form the basis for an eventual deal, the senior adviser to US secretary of state Rex Tillerson has said.

In his first foray into shuttle diplomacy since his appointment, Tillerson is planning to spend most of the week in the Gulf in a bid to mediate in a month-long dispute between Qatar and four neighbouring countries: Saudia Arabia; Bahrain; Egypt; and the United Arab Emirates.

Tillerson travelled on Monday to meet senior figures in Kuwait, the regional mediating power that has so far failed to de-escalate the dispute.

Tillerson’s communications adviser, RC Hammond, said the complete set of Saudi demands were not viable even though constituent elements were worth discussing. But he added that the international community was losing patience with the Gulf’s funding of extremist groups. Hammond said that at the G20 summit last week, European countries had voiced their concern that the Gulf crisis was affecting security efforts and that all countries in the region needed to act against terror funding. “This is a two-way street,” he said. “There are no clean hands.”

Tillerson will be accompanied at some meetings by Mark Sedwell, the British national security adviser. At the weekend the British foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said the UK had made specific proposals that are understood to focus on new ways of monitoring cash flows to Europe.

But Hammond said a resolution to the diplomatic crisis could still be “months away”. “We’ve had one round of exchanges and dialogue and didn’t advance the ball,” he said. “Our job here is to keep people communicating and talking to each other.”

On a personal level, Tillerson needs to convince Gulf rulers that he is calling the shots and convince them that Trump is not running an alternative foreign policy that sides with Saudi Arabia.

Since the dispute errupted last month, Washington has given a string of mixed messages to the parties involved: Donald Trump declared himself wholeheartedly behind the diplomatic and economic blockade on Qatar, but the State and Defense departments have been sharply critical of the move.

Qatar has rejected 13 demands of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt to restore diplomatic relations and end the blockade.

They include Qatar shutting down the media network Al-Jazeera, cutting ties with Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood, limiting ties with Iran and expelling Turkish troops stationed in the country.

Anwar Gargash, the UAE foreign affairs minister, said: “The finest mediation work will fail without realism maturity and rationality from Doha.

“Hiding behind the vocabulary of sovereignty and denial prolongs the crisis.”

Meanwhile, Staffan de Mistura, the UN special envoy on Syria warned that the Gulf dispute has the potential to complicate efforts to secure a peace deal in Syria.

At the start of five days of Syrian peace talks in Geneva, De Mistura welcomed an agreement on Friday between Trump and Vladimir Putin to launch a ceasefire in south-west Syria.

But there were reports on Monday that President Bashar Al-Assad’s Syrian army, aligned with Iranian militias, were ignoring the ceasefire and attacking Free Syrian Army positions in breach of the ceasefire.


Patrick Wintour Diplomatic editor

The GuardianTramp

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